Drink In Life Book Club-Literary Libations

This month I’ve decided to do something a little different by talking about a book that highlights classic books and showcases beverages that pair well with them. In her book, LITERARY LIBATIONS: What to Drink With What You Read, Amira Makansi has pairing recommendations for more than 150 of some of the greatest works of literature written. Amira’s literary boozy adventure is an ideal combination of satisfying drinks and literary classics, especially if you’re looking to spice up that reading circle with something a little more ‘buzz’ worthy.

About the Book….

I think classic literature is essential for any book club, sometimes we get the notion that they are stuffy and pretentious, but classics can be just as fun as some contemporary reads and often spark deeply engaging conversations. Literary Libations is a perfect springboard book that includes a comprehensive list of classic books that will have you making some room on your wine rack for a few new bottles and have you breaking out your favorite cocktail shaker to whip up some corresponding cocktails to pair with these famous works of literature.

I will get into some of these pairings soon, but first I’d like to share my interview with Amira and have her share what inspired her to bring together two of my favorite things, amazing novels and classic beverages.

“The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.” -Italo Calvino

A Word with the Author….

Photo Courtesy of Amira Makansi

Here is my interview with Amira Makansi, author of Literary Libations; What to Drink With What You Read. First.

Can you share a little about your background, have you always been a writer?

I started writing fiction at around 10 years old. I wrote stories about adventuring warrior mice, hares and badgers that were clearly plagiarized from, or at least heavily inspired by, the works of Brian Jacques, my favorite author at the time. I eventually stopped plagiarizing and started writing fanfiction: I wrote fifty pages of serialized chapters about Fawkes the phoenix in the Harry Potter series. In high school and college, my reading – and writing – dropped off significantly as the pressures of school, homework, athletics, extracurriculars, and socializing removed any free time from my life.

I never saw myself as a writer, particularly as a fiction writer, until my mom had a crazy dream and enlisted my sister and I to help her flesh it out. That dream became the cornerstone of our first published book, The Sowing, the first book in the Seeds trilogy. Around that time, I began to identify as a writer and to dream of a career as an author.

You also work in the wine industry, is that correct? What does this job entail?

I currently work at a winery doing marketing and ecommerce, but I have worked in all aspects of the wine industry, from winemaking to distribution to restaurants and hospitality. I really love the wine industry. It attracts people who understand that life is short and we should spend our time enjoying the sweetest things in life: relaxing with good food, good drinks, and great company. I hope to always have a connection to the wine business.

Photo Courtesy of Amira Makansi

How did you come up with the idea for a book that pairs great literature with the perfect beverage?

In 2015, I was working full-time as a lab technician at a winery in California, and one of my tasks was to climb around in stacks of wine barrels to pull lab samples for analysis. I wore a headlamp and worked in the dark, and the work was very physical but fairly rote mentally. Between the physical work and the dark environment, my imagination ran wild. It was then that I came up with the idea for a blog post called What to Drink with What You Read with wine pairings for literary genres – Rosé with romance, for example, or Petite Syrah with mysteries and thrillers. I published the post on my blog to an enthusiastic response from readers, and about a week later my dad called me and said, “Have you thought about turning this into a book?” I hadn’t, but he planted the seed and I started to think about how to expand the concept into a complete book.

With so many books to choose from, how did you decide which titles would be included in Literary Libations?

I wanted to offer something for everyone, a well-rounded selection of both classic and popular novels. I decided to include a wide swath of genres, from literary classics to fun romance to young adult novels. Once I had my genres, I started with books I had read personally, and expanded by searching on Amazon, Goodreads, and Google lists for the top books in each category. I narrowed it down by looking at the total number of reviews, and trying to pick books that were well-read and would be familiar to many readers.

Were some of the book and beverage pairings harder than others? What was the most difficult book to find just the right beverage for?

Some pairings came naturally – a French 75 with The Great Gatsby, a Manhattan with The Catcher in the Rye. Others were nearly impossible. I thought long and hard about Toni Morrison’s Beloved. It felt important to get that one right, and I’m still not sure I did—although of course there is no “right” or “wrong” drink pairing, it also felt important to do each book justice and find a drink that complemented the book. Another challenging one was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. I couldn’t think of a cocktail for that one and ended up creating one of my own, a non-alcoholic drink called a Tea-serac. I still have regret around trying to make that pun work.

I would like to ask about some specific book and beverage pairings that we will be highlighting in the Drink In Life Book Club, including The Great Gatsby-French 75, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn-Whiskey Fizz Cocktail, The Invisible Man-Mint Julep Cocktail and Beloved by Toni Morrison-Chamomile Tea Cocktail. Can you share why you picked these specific cocktails for each of these titles?

Of the four you mentioned, only The Great Gatsby came easily. In appearances only, the French 75 is a frivolous cocktail – bubbly and glitzy golden – yet it hides the intensity of the gin, and the bloody history of its name: it is named after a machine gun used by the French in WWI. The golden overlay on top of a dark and tragic story seemed a perfect complement to Fitzgerald’s Roaring Twenties and Jay Gatsby.

The Mint Julep pairing for Ellison’s The Invisible Man came from a deep dive into cocktail history when I learned that the cocktail was invented and perfected by several Black men who worked as butlers and bartenders at wealthy country clubs—which, at the time, were of course segregated by race. Cato Alexander, John Dabney, and Tom Bullock were all famous for their Mint Juleps. The men pouring this delicious drink could not themselves enjoy them in the places they worked. I wanted to make those bartenders a little less invisible by honoring their contributions to cocktail culture, and it felt fitting to do so alongside Ellison’s remarkable novel about race and identity in America.

I wanted to tread lightly alongside Morrison’s Beloved with a pairing that would complement and not step on the toes of this book. Alcoholic beverages have a dark history in relationship to slavery, so I was tempted to simply recommend water or tea, and yet to offer a non-alcoholic pairing in a chapter where all the other pairings were alcoholic felt like a cop-out. To do it justice, I found the chamomile cocktail. Chamomile is a healing herb known to promote rest and sleep, and Beloved is about processing, digging up, and facing dark memories, traumas, and wounds. Much of that work is best done while resting or well-rested. The pairing seemed to fit.

Finally, the Whiskey Fizz cocktail with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Again, I almost wanted to recommend a non-alcoholic beverage, but knowing that Twain didn’t mind a drink from time to time told me that was too dramatic a choice. I opted instead for a drink that offers balance: seriousness from the whiskey, lightness and innocence from the fizz.

I know that picking a favorite can be difficult, but do you have a favorite book and beverage pairing?

I love the pairings that are so perfect you can’t help but smile and say “Oh, of course” when you hear them. I love the Bloody Mary with Dracula, in part because I love a Bloody Mary so much. I love The Jasmine with Rebecca. I love Blanc de Noirs champagne with A Discovery of Witches. I love apple cider with The Giving Tree, although I will never love that book.

Photo by Steven Addington Photography courtesy of Amira Makansi

You also have a YA science-fiction book series called The Seeds Trilogy that you wrote with your mom and sister. How was the collaboration in comparison to writing your own books? Can I ask what beverage you would pair with this series?

The Seeds Trilogy is a science-fiction book about food, climate change, and the dangers of genetic modification, so I would pair it with something natural and agricultural rather than something mass-produced. It is also loosely set around present-day Ontario, and I like to keep my pairings connected to the location as much as possible, so I would opt for a wine from the Finger Lakes region of New York. The Finger Lakes region is known for aromatic white wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, but with climate change they will be able to produce elegant cool-climate reds like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and even Syrah. The Seeds Trilogy is set several hundred years into the future, so I would opt for a wine that will be able to be produced in the future, so I would say a Cabernet Franc or a Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes region would make a perfect pairing for The Seeds Trilogy.

Collaborating with my mom and sister was such a blast. We worked well together and complemented each other’s strengths. My sister Elena is great at writing emotional insights into each character’s thought process. I wrote powerful scenes that pack a punch. My mom is the idea generator and has the vision that holds the whole story together. She is also an amazing editor. It is amazing to have people to rely on for feedback, to ask for ideas, and to read your chapters and tell you what is junk and what is brilliant. Writing by myself was satisfying in a completely different way. I had to learn to rely on myself, to trust my own instincts, and to push myself forward to finish the work.

In September 2021 your newest book The Paths Between The Stars: Book One in the Many Skies Series was released, what most excites you about this story and new series?

The Paths Between The Stars has my heart and soul. It is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl haunted by shadows that have followed her ever since her father’s death many years ago. To defeat her shadows, she has to explore entirely new worlds and learn to find her own light. is a book that came out of my own mental health struggles and my desire to explore depression, sadness and loss through a lens that would open new worlds of possibility and address these challenges in a positive way. Noomi, the heroine, has to learn to trust herself, her friends, and a young man who comes into her life. Above all, what excites me most about this series is the creative possibility within the parallel worlds concept, and the opportunity to tell a story about overcoming mental health challenges through trust, exploration, and discovery.

January’s Classic Novels, Cocktails and Recipe Pairings….

This month I am sharing some delicious recipes that were inspired by four of the classic masterpieces from Literary Libations, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Beloved. I love this month’s nod to classic works of literature, these four titles and more fill many of the book shelves in our home and each year I challenge myself to reread a favorite or discover for the first time a yet to be read classic masterpiece. I had a wonderful time thinking about recipes that would compliment the novels and the author of Literary Libations, Amira’s selected beverages.

Update: Some previously published recipes have been removed, new recipes coming soon.

The Great Gatsby and a French 75

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The label of a classic novel comes simply from its staying power and The Great Gatsby by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald is a masterfully-crafted work that stands the test of time with its unforgettable characters and vibrant details of the Jazz Age in America. Set on Long Island, near New York City, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Nick Carraway’s interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel had parties that were the stuff of legend, with their elegant and sophisticated culture of the roaring 1920’s. Filled with an intoxicating mixture of Champagne along with prohibition era bathtub gin and bootlegged whiskey, The Great Gatsby blends together enduring love, death, recklessness, and a whole lot of glitz. It only seems fitting that Amira paired The Great Gatsby with a classic French 75 Cocktail made with Champagne or Sparkling Wine.

Jell-O which was introduced in 1897, became a pantry staple, and by the 1920s was termed “America’s most favorite dessert.” To tie into Great Gatsby-French 75 combination I wanted to share this easy and fun Jello square that captures both the ease of finger food and the delicious and addictive flavors of a French 75.

I made some French 75 “Jello” Squares, found on the DRINK / A Wine, Beer & Spirit Blog and loved the whimsical fun of these boozy jellies. They would be a perfect pairing with a book club gathering.

When creating the perfect cocktail or cocktail infused treat the quality of the spirit matters. For The French 75 Jello Squares I used one of my favorite Oregon Gins, Trillium Gin from Trail Distilling.

Fun Fact: The Great Gatsby is full of rich flavors and Appetizers & Hors d’oeuvre were extremely popular speakeasy fare in the 1920s. Perfect bite-size party food allowed guests to mix and mingle while they sampled lots of different tidbits throughout the night. Some items that were popular on speakeasy menus included Deviled eggs, Shrimp cocktail, Oysters Rockefeller, and Cheese platters filled with olives and mixed nuts.

Invisible Man and a Mint Julep

Classic novels often have memorable themes that speak of human experiences, themes about life and society that readers can relate to. They are influential in shaping the way that we look at literature and in weaving their way into our lives with their indelible characters, use of language and messages that define our own experiences. Although they may have been written decades or even centuries ago, we can still catch glimpses of something new with each classic literature exploration. The meaning of these books transform along with our ability to analyze the story and take with us a message or lesson that is unique to our own lives.

Upon it’s publication in 1952, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was recognized as an American Literature masterpiece. It is a rare novel that changed the shape of literature in America as Ellison tells of the racial divide and nature of bigotry that is prevalent in the lives his characters. Unparalleled truth throughout this book gives the reader a new and searing model of what a novel can be.

Addressing many of the social and theoretical issues faced by African Americans in the early twentieth century the narrator, an unnamed black man, reflects on the different ways in which he has experienced social invisibility during his life. As his journey takes him from the Deep South to the streets of Harlem this nameless protagonist takes the readers on a audacious journey that changes each time that you read it.

With it’s deep roots in the South, Amira paired Invisible Man with a classic Mint Julep. I crafted my Mint Julep with the incredibly smooth First City Small Batch Corn Whiskey from Trail Distilling.

Fun Fact: Most historians agree that the Mint Julep was developed within Virginia high society during the late 1700s or early 1800s.

I wanted to challenge myself to find a Mint Julep food pairing recipe that stayed true to Southern flavors, like a Mustard Herb Buttermilk Biscuit with Ham. I thought it would be fun to carry the flavors of this southern bite into something new, like a tangy and appetizing pizza whose flavor profiles were a fantastic compliment to a Mint Julep. I hope that you enjoy this fun and book club pleasing recipe.

Ham Pizza with Tangy Mustard Herb Sauce

Recipe by Elaine Luxton-Drink In Life Blog
Tangy mustard gives this herb laced white pizza sauce a piquant flavor of a classic savory southern biscuit filled with ham and cheese. This homemade pizza might take a little longer to make, but is totally worth the effort.
This versatile white sauce can also be used in other pizza creations including the BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza found below.

Ingredients
  

  • Etalia Foods Nudo frozen GF organic pizza crust
  • ½ pound Apple Smoked Bacon, fried, drained of excess grease and broken into small pieces. Reserve grease in pan to fry the ham.
  • 1 pound Black Forest Ham sliced into thin strips
  • pound Whole Mozzarella sliced into thin pieces
  • ½ pound Smoked Cheddar Cheese, grated (2 tbsp of this will be used in pizza sauce)
  • Arugula for topping finished pizza

Mustard Herb Pizza Sauce

  • 1 *Roasted Whole Head of Garlic (remove roasted cloves once head of garlic is cooled and smash with fork, set aside).
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • cup milk, (2% or whole milk)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 2 tbsp smoked white cheddar cheese, grated
  • Small pinch of Nutmeg
  • 2-3 tbsp yellow mustard or favorite flavored mustard (I used Boar's Heads Honey Mustard)
  • 1 tbsp Each-chopped fresh chives, parsley and thyme

Instructions
 

  • *Roast Whole Head of Garlic one hour before making this recipe.
    Fry chopped bacon in a frying pan on medium high until crisp, remove with slotted spoon onto a paper towel to remove excess grease. Add ham strips to bacon grease fry pan and cook fry until lightly browned. Remove with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to remove excess grease. Leave bacon and ham while you prepare the pizza sauce.
    Preheat oven to 500 degrees F, and allow it to preheat for15-30 mins. before baking the pizza.
    Start making the pizza sauce by melting butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and continue whisking for 1-2 minutes (do not let it brown).
    Slowly add milk, whisking constantly until smooth, thickened, and bubbly.
    Whisk in 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper, pinch of nutmeg and smashed roasted garlic cloves.
    Add parmesan and smoked white cheddar cheese and whisk another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and continue whisking just until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth then remove from heat. Fold in mustard and fresh chopped chives, parsley and thyme. Set aside to cool slightly before using for pizza. This makes 1½ cups of pizza sauce.
    To assemble pizza:
    Remove Nudo frozen pizza crust from freezer and package. If you have a pizza screen, then remove parchment paper from the frozen crust and lay frozen crust onto the screen.
    Spread a generous layer of Mustard Herb Pizza Sauce on frozen Nudo Pizza Crust. Evenly top pizza sauce with ham slices and bacon pieces. Add fresh mozzarella slices and top with grated smoked white cheddar cheese.
    Place pizza in preheated oven and cook for 10-12 minutes on the bottom rack of oven. Rotate pizza crust halfway through bake time for even baking.
    Once pizza is golden brown and bubbly, remove from the oven.
    Top with fresh Arugula. Enjoy!

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn-Whiskey Fizz Cocktail

Classic literary works endure for generations because they awaken our imagination and deliver experiences of different time periods, places, struggles and triumphs through a host of characters. This is especially true with The Adventures of Hucklberry Finn which is considered a classic book whose story of friendship, loyalty, and difficult choices transformed the course of children’s literature.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a novel by American author Mark Twain and was published first in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and then in the United States in February 1885, as a sequel to Twain’s Tom Sawyer. This tale of Huckleberry Finn and his adventures on the Mississippi River is a well-loved piece of American literature that tells the story of a misfit boy who finds himself floating on a raft down the river on a perilous journey with an escaping slave, Jim. Although the novel has faced censorship in schools and libraries because of complaints of racial stereotypes, it is an accurate representation of the rural population in the pre–Civil War South.

Amira paired The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a Whiskey Fizz because as she points out in her book, “Whiskey in particular is mentioned often enough in this novel that one can assume if Twain knew we were devising pairings for his book, he’d point us to the whiskey barrel.”

BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza

With another Etalia Foods Nudo frozen GF organic pizza crust and leftover Smoked BBQ Pulled Pork I couldn’t resist making an extra pizza that would pay homage to southern food but also be an fitting pairing with a Whiskey Fizz.

For this pizza I used the same white pizza sauce from the Ham Pizza recipe above and instead of mustard and herbs, I just added 1 tbsp of chopped parsley and 1 tsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary to the white sauce.

The Nudo frozen GF organic pizza crust was topped with the white herb pizza sauce, bbq pulled pork, thinly sliced red onions, sliced fresh mozzarella and shredded pepper jack cheese.

This BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza is perfectly complimented by the sweeter vanilla, toasted oak notes of the First City Whiskey by Trail Distilling used in my Whiskey Fizz cocktail.

Beloved by Toni Morrison-Chamomile Tea Cocktail

There is an interesting article about “The science behind how literature improves our lives” from the Ohio State News that includes a statement from Angus Fletcher, an English professor that really resonated with me. Fletcher said, “from my neuroscience background and studies that I’ve done, I can see how literature’s inventions plug into different regions of our brain, to make us less lonely or help us build up our courage or do a variety of other things to help us. Every story is different and is, in effect, a different tool.” Literature can provide a gateway with the ability to see the world with a pair of fresh eyes, it can also trigger us as readers to reflect upon our own lives.

Beloved, novel by Toni Morrison, was published in 1987 and it became a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Set after the American Civil War, it tells the story of a family of former slaves whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a malevolent spirit. Chronicling the life of a Black woman named Sethe it is a masterpiece that often shocks readers with it’s character’s act of supreme love and sacrifice.

Beloved is one of those novels that will stay with you, reigniting harrowing images of slavery and its lasting impact long after you finish reading it. The intensely shocking and understandably moving narrative is delivered by Morrison’s beautiful language and intense imagery. This is rightly a classic work that should be read and read again.

As an enthusiastic reader I like to challenge myself by rediscovering “forgotten classics” by weaving them into my yearly reading list. This year might be the perfect time to discover or reintroduce yourself to one or all of these classic works of literature.

Within the pages of Beloved Chamomile is mentioned several times, for this reason Amira felt it was only appropriated that this American novel be paired with a Chamomile Tea Cocktail. The floral characters of the chamomile tea which I think is such an under-appreciated base to use in cocktails, balances perfectly with whisky’s mellow vanilla and spicy hints.

January Drink In Life Book Club Sponsors….

Trail Distilling

I have enjoyed the spirits of Trail Distilling for a few years now and I am always impressed with how these award winning spirits drink so well on their own and are a premium choice to elevate a cocktail. Located at the end of the Oregon Trail in Oregon City, OR, Trail Distilling uses the clear Cascadian glacial water of the PNW and naturally harvested grains to handcraft their line of spirits. True believers that all spirits aren’t created equal this Veteran and Woman Owned Small Business is the joint venture of co-owners Jerry Brennan and Sara Brennan.

There is a special floral citrus forward taste to the Trillium that balances so well with the juniper notes in this gin. I really love how the sparkling wine and lemon notes in my French 75 were emphasized by this well crafted gin. A fantastic cocktail partner.

A bottle of First City Whiskey is always a welcome addition to my bar cart. This small batch corn whiskey is matured for five years and finished in Oregon’s popular Pinot Noir casks using water emanating from glaciers in the nearby Cascades mountain range.

Toasty, with buttery vanilla and caramel notes, this whiskey is balanced and has a gratifying finish. Inviting and smooth enough to sip on its own, this is a stellar whiskey to consider for any whiskey cocktail.

The Trail Distilling line of spirits also includes their Trillium Pink Pinot Gin (an absolute favorite of mine), Trillium Barrel Reserved Gin and First City Vodka. You can shop for these spirits on the Trail Distilling website.

Etalia Foods

For pizza lovers who are celiac or gluten intolerant, an easy to make and delicious gluten-free pizza dough is essential. For others like myself who just appreciate this healthier alternative to gluten pizza crust the Nudo Pizza Dough from Etalia Foods is an at home cook’s dream.

Gluten-Free | Organic | Plant-Based | Dairy-Free with No additives, No preservatives and made with 100% natural ingredients.

This is not a pre-baked crust like other pizza crusts, The Nudo Pizza Dough is fresh dough that rises and bubbles as you bake it to deliver a airy and crispy outer crust with a chewy center. It’s the best gluten free crust that I have tried and is a perfect blank canvas for your Pizza Night creations.

Etalia Foods crafts their dough using organic flours and fresh yeast which gives wonderful flavor to this light and crispy crust.

The Nudo Pizza Dough are available for purchase on the Etalia Foods Website and are shipped directly to your home. I enjoy the convenience of taking one of these tasty gluten free crusts from the freezer and cooking up a homemade pizza in under 30 minutes. Better than takeout Pizza!

I would like to thank the sponsors for Literary Libations: What to Drink With What You Read book club title.

I know that this was a long post so thank you for reading and I hope that the books, cocktails and recipes give you some ideas for an upcoming book club of your own.

Stay Tuned for New Recipes coming soon.

Previous Drink In Life Book Club titles and recipes can be found here.

Images, content and recipes © of Drink In Nature Photography/Drink In Life Blog.

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